A 20th Year Celebration: Accomplishments and Goals for the Street Newspaper of Greater Boston

Michael Ahern

Save the date – Spare Change News is holding a celebratory event at 7 p.m. on June 21 at The Inn at Harvard (1201 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge) to mark its 20th year as Boston and Cambridge’s street newspaper.

Since its formation, the newspaper has become a community for a piece of Boston and Cambridge that often goes unseen, unheard or ignored. As it continues growing not only as a sanctuary for the impoverished, but also as a tool to shed light on the issues of homelessness, the paper has many present and future goals. And it also has a great deal to celebrate.

With hope, the newspaper envisions that economically disadvantaged people will have their needs met. They hope to create a sense of community where everyone is equally valued. Through the process of self-employment and self-expression, the paper gives empowerment to those who are homeless or impoverished.

In order to celebrate the milestone, the community is holding a celebration. Vendors, writers, editors and other members of the newspaper will be in attendance. The purpose of the event, however, is not just for celebration.

Cheryl Jordan, the chairperson of the 20th Anniversary Celebration and coordinator of the event, says “the theme for this year’s Celebration is ’20 Years of Helping People Help Themselves.'” She has invited people to speak at the event and is creating other forms of entertainment such as “music, raffles and silent or live auctions.”

As part of the celebration, members would like to invite all those who are interested to attend. Participation and volunteer work for the paper is highly encouraged. The facts of homelessness still need exposure.

The event also celebrates the vendors of Spare Change News. “This is an opportunity to acknowledge the vendors themselves,” says Jordan. “Publishing a newspaper and selling to the general public is a business, and like most businesses we need to thank the employees and vendors for the great job they are doing getting the paper out to the community.”

The event will acknowledge the vendors’ work through an awards ceremony, Jordan told me. “We have awards for the vendor with the highest sales record, a vendor of the year.” She also notes that there will be a “Lifetime Achievement Award [that] goes to someone who has turned their life around and is now working to help others who are homeless.”

Jordan is also working on putting together a special exhibit. She hopes this exhibit will shed light on the issues of homelessness. “People will be able to view the original newspapers and read about the current facts surrounding the homeless within the state of Massachusetts with the focus on Boston and its surrounding communities,” she says. “I want people to see what the vendors and founders of Spare Change News think and feel about the community they are living in.” In turn, she says, she wants attendees to “understand just what homelessness can do to a person’s life.”

She, like Spare Change News, believes housing “is a basic human right.” She adds, “when people can secure housing then other issues can be addressed.”

As the paper continues growing there are goals that it wishes to reach both in the near and far future. James Shearer, the cofounder and board president of the newspaper, hopes the organization can continue to “destroy myths about homelessness.”

Shearer believes that there is a horrible stigma in our society with regards to the impoverished and that this negatively affects the success of the paper. He also does not like the term “homeless newspaper.”

“I think there is confusion about that,” he says. “It’s a newspaper that helps homeless people help themselves.”

When asked what other tools homeless people need in order to succeed and overcome their poverty, Shearer answers with one word: “Hope.” He believes real advocates need to provide this hope. He finds it frustrating that to some advocates, helping the homeless is simply an occupation.

“They need real advocates,” he adds. “People who are actually going to go out and be there for them and want to help them.”

After a seven-year run as board President, James Shearer will be stepping down, although he is most certainly not leaving the organization. “I think it’s a sign of a good leader,” he believes. “One who steps aside and lets others lead.”

He hopes that before he makes this move, the paper is secure. “I want to make sure the paper is stabilized and that it is going in the right direction.” He also hopes that in the near future the organization can raise more awareness. He envisions vendors and people working together politically. “We need a voice out there – that’s what I want.” And certainly this newspaper has been a growing voice for the past twenty years.

For more information with regard to Spare Change News or the event itself, visit www.sparechangenews.net, send an e-mail to director@sparechangenews.net or take a look at the paper’s Facebook page. Tickets will be sold at $50 per person.

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